Justice for support staff now

Pope Francis said that the right to organise in unions is a fundamental protection for workers. We had no rain on our recent rallies, so God is on our side. Take note, Catholic employers!

We don’t take protected industrial action lightly. By this very act, we are sending a strong message to our employers that we are not going to sit idly by and allow them to disregard our claims. These are not over-the-top claims; they are fair and just claims.

How long do support staff have to fight for justice? There is no recognition for our years of experience. Many of us have university degrees and extensive experience, but this is not recognised. Why? Other sectors recognise prior learning and experience.

I’ve been a union member since 1992. After every hard-won change to our enterprise agreement – gained through blood, sweat and tears – I have felt soul destroyed by the employers, their lack of respect and failure to understand the work we do. We are professionals. Schools cannot function without committed support staff.

We should not have to fight for justice. During the COVID lockdowns, who was still in schools day after day helping to supervise students? We were! Quite often we were the conduit between school and home. We helped teaching and learning continue. We deserve justice and we need employers to hear our voice!

The employers have refused to budge on our claim for parity with teachers’ long service leave entitlements. But when it suits them, the employers are willing to compare us with the government school system, if their entitlements are lower. The Catholic employers complain fairness is too expensive. Well, justice has its price.

Our low wages and lack of access to a fair, incremental step structure and job security represents the employers’ lack of respect.

How can support staff make decisions about their lives when many don’t know how many hours they’ll be working from year to year? It is cruel!

In 2019, support staff in government schools received a significant wage increase after protracted negotiations. We took this to the Catholic employers, who tried to say our roles were different. Finally, they agreed with the IEU to set up a joint working party to assess our claim for parity. Job for job! Like for like! We proved our roles are not significantly different to those of our government school counterparts. Yet we’re still no better off.

After much back-and-forth between the employer and the union, the employers have made an ‘in-principle offer’. But what does this really mean? Can they be trusted to follow through? Why some increases this year and some next year? Give it all to us now! We are already doing the work.

Urge non-members in your school to join us in this fight. Together we can all win. We have strength in numbers, we are more powerful, and our voices will be heard.